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Twins Biggest 2021 Advantage May Be Their Depth

On Monday afternoon, the Twins announced their Opening Day roster. But the Twins have depth at each position around the diamond. So, if (when) there are injuries, who will we see?All offseason, we have talked about how deep this Twins roster is. We have an Opening Day 26-Man roster, but we know that many more players will be called up during the season.


From 2016 through 2019, the Twins averaged 51.25 players used per season including 33 pitchers. In 60 games in 2020, the Twins used 44 players including 24 pitchers. With the team’s Triple-A affiliate just ten miles away, those numbers could go even higher.


So while I may mention too many names below, most of them are realistic options to appear in a game or more for the Twins in 2021 depending on injuries, performance and need.


Depth comes from multiple layers, of course.

  • 40-Man Roster: There is a clear benefit to being on the 40-man roster. It eliminates a step to being called up. That often is a big factor.

  • Minor League Veterans: Guys like Derek Law and Keon Broxon were signed to minor league deals and have lots of big-league experience and successes. With strong spring training performances, they could be next in line depending on the situation.

  • Minor League Non-Roster Invite (Prospects): Trevor Larnach is a top prospect. At some point this season, he’ll be ready, and he’s the kind of prospect you try to make room for. Bringing him up, after adding him to the 40-man roster, is a big decision.

  • Minor League Prospects: There will likely be some prospects who weren’t invited to spring training (or were in the depth camp) who will have really strong, productive seasons and surprisingly push their way toward a big-league call-up. I try to list some of those, but it seems there are always some surprises too.

Let’s take a look at the players on the Opening Day roster by position and see which players are next in line on the 40-man roster, as well as minor league prospects and veterans who could get an opportunity with the Twins in 2021.


Many believe that the Twins and White Sox are both very talented, but the Twins have much more depth, and quality depth. Check out the below, and determine for yourself where the Twins are strongest, and where they may need to use prospects to acquire more talent, if the need arises.


Catchers: Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Willians Astudillo


40-man Roster: Ben Rortvedt. Rortvedt hasn’t played since the 2019 season. It is likely he will start the season at Double-A and potentially get to AAA. He could be called up if the Twins ever needed a catcher for just a few games.


Non-Roster (Veteran): Tomas Telis is the catcher who will be on the Taxi Squad early in the season. He’s got big-league time. He was at the alternate site in 2020. In 2019 at Rochester, he hit .330.


Non-Roster Prospect to Watch: David Banuelos. Definitely a defense-first catcher, but clearly he has impressed the Twins coaching staff behind the plate and has played a lot. Can he hit at all in the minors?


Infielders: Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Luis Arraez


40-man roster: Nick Gordon should start the 2021 season in Triple-A, playing both shortstop and second base. Travis Blankenhorn will likely start the season at Double-A Wichita. If there is a short-term need in the middle infield, just a couple of days, Gordon could get that call. If there is a need at third base, Blankenhorn could be the option. If there is a need at first base, Brent Rooker would likely be the choice early in the season, though Alex Kirilloff could also get a chance there.


Non-Roster: JT Riddle will be on the Taxi Squad in Milwaukee, and he’s got significant playing time in the big leagues. Tzu-Wei Lin had a very impressive performance during spring training. He has spent some time with the Red Sox each of the past four seasons. At first base, Zander Wiel was in big-league spring training the past two years, and he had a monster 2019 season in Rochester.


Non-Roster Prospect to Watch: Jose Miranda will likely start in Double-A, but potentially he could be ready late in the season, as needed.


Outfielders: Byron Buxton, Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick, Max Kepler


40-man roster: Gilberto Celestino is big-league ready defensively, though he needs some time to continue his offensive game. Big-time potential. He could be a call-up if the Twins need a short-term center fielder. As mentioned in the first-base discussion, Rooker is a little ahead of Kirilloff and would likely be the first called up if a corner outfielder missed time. It won’t be long before Kirilloff is ready though, and once he’s called up, he’s going to get the playing time.


Non-Roster: Keon Broxton had a nice showing in spring training. He can play well defensively at all three outfield positions and has the ability to produce with the bat and with his speed. Rob Refsnyder has played in the big leagues before, though it’s harder to see a path back to the big leagues with the Twins. Same with Drew Maggi. And don’t forget Aaron Whitefield. The speedster should start in Double-A, but as we’ve seen, if there is a need for speed, maybe Whitefield is considered again.


Non-Roster Prospect to Watch: Matt Wallner. The Twins Competitive Balance pick in 2019 is a Minnesotan who became a college slugger at Southern Mississippi. He’s the kind of bat that could move up quickly, especially after a lost 2020 season. Not likely to get to the big leagues in 2021, but could get close.


Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz


40-Man Roster: Brent Rooker would certainly be the favorite to be called up if Cruz got hurt. But again, Alex Kirilloff could get the call too and allow some flexibility at the DH position.


Non-Roster: Trevor Larnach was a non-roster invite to spring training for the second straight year. He’ll be at the alternate site in St. Paul, and while Rooker and Kirilloff are on the roster and would get the first shot, Larnach is nearly big-league ready and at some point in 2021, he will become a legitimate option in the corner outfield positions.


Non-Roster Prospect to Watch: Aaron Sabato. The Twins top pick in the 2020 draft from North Carolina will hit. He got a lot of time in the latter innings of big-league spring training games. He had just a couple of hits, but the organization obviously really likes him. Again, he may start the season in A-Ball (probably High-A Cedar Rapids), but he has the potential to move up quickly. He could be near-ready by season’s end.


Starting Pitchers: Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker.


26-Man Roster: Newly-extended Randy Dobnak will start the season in the bullpen, but if the team needs a starter, he will get the first shot. And expect that he will get quite a few starts in 2021, and then for the next four or more years.


40-Man Roster: Lewis Thorpe got a fourth option and will likely spend the year developing as a starter, but he would be next, after Dobnak. Next in line might be Devin Smeltzer. Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers, Bailey Ober and Jordan Balazovic are all on the 40-man roster. They combined to pitch one inning during spring training games. Duran is the closest. He and his triple-digit fastball and “splinker” could potentially be ready by mid-season. Ober and Balazovic might be ready a little bit later in the season. And with Chalmers, he’ll just need some patience.


Non-Roster (Veterans): The Twins brought in veteran starters like Andrew Albers, Luke Farrell and Glenn Sparkman, though their role if they are needed in the big leagues, it would likely be a spot-start or long-relief.


Non-Roster (Prospects): Charlie Barnes is a softer-throwing lefty with a terrific change up. Griffin Jax doesn’t throw real hard, but he profiles as a start from the right side. Both of them have been non-roster invites to spring training the past two years. Matt Canterino and Josh Winder are really good, hard-throwing prospects. They have increased their fastball velocities since 2019 and have starter’s pitch-mixes. Both could be ready to contribute late in the season, if needed.


Non-Roster Prospect to Watch: Other starting pitchers that are intriguing and have an outside shot at being ready late in the season include (but not limited to): Blayne Enlow, Cole Sands, Chris Vallimont, Luis Rijo, Lachlan Wells.


Bullpen: Alex Colome, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashak, Randy Dobnak.


40-Man Roster: Shaun Anderson came to the Twins from the Giants for LaMonte Wade. He’s got good stuff and is likely to contribute at some point in the season.


Non-Roster (Veterans): Danny Coulombe, Ian Hamilton, Derek Law, Juan Minaya, Brandon Waddell, Ian Gibaut, Andrew Vasquez, Robinson Leyer, Chandler Shepherd. Along with the veteran non-roster starters, these pitchers could contribute in 2021. Clearly, Derek Law and Brandon Waddell are first in line as they were both very impressive in spring training. Waddell has always been a starter. He’s moving to the bullpen and has an already-solid while developing slider. Law’s slider has been very good. Luke Farrell also had a very strong spring.


Non-Roster (Prospects): Tom Hackimer, Ryan Mason. The side-winding Hackimer has put up solid numbers since being drafted. Ryan Mason has been really good out of the bullpen, recording saves and getting big outs. Both have missed time with injury, but they performed well as part of the spring training depth camp.


Non-Roster Prospects to Watch: Yennier Cano is already 27. The Twins signed him out of Cuba in 2019. Minnesotan Adam Bray was used in a variety of roles at AA and AAA in 2019. Josh Mitchell was a minor league Rule 5 pick in December. Soon after, the southpaw was clocked at 100 mph.


There are a lot of names here, but thankfully in 2021, there will be a minor league season and there will be players who surprise. Maybe a couple of players not listed above could also debut.


The Twins have depth at most positions. Which positions are the Twins most able to replace players in the big leagues? Which positions do the Twins have less depth?


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great take...one thing that stood out to me was watching Sabato wear his glove on his head between abs while holding a runner was on. Someone should have a chat with him about that. Serious young men trying to hone their crafts should never do that.

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I'm trying to reconcile the fact that much of the depth is largely unproven. It's scary and exciting all at the same time. I suppose that's a sign that I'm ready to see the next group of prospects push through.

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The Twins should have a very exciting season this year. But the one thing that I am really looking forward to is reading the daily minor league reports. Not having those in 2020 left a big hole in my daily routine. I think I'm looking forward to May 1st more than April 1st. And that's no joke!

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Too many names - next take those names and tell us what you think of 2021 likeliness.  They cannot use all these.  Some are going to fall off quickly.  If you took all your 40 man, non roster and other categories and ranked them from top to bottom that would tell me more.  If Sabato has a real chance for this year I did not see it in the ST games I watched.  But I do wonder if those who came in during the current FO regime get a higher chance to make it. 

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Thanks Seth, enjoyed article. How long can Gordon keep a 40 man roster spot? I would say Riddle and Lin are ahead of him. I know prospect depth is poor at SS but just don't see Gordon as a potential contributor at MLB level.

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I fully agree their possible depth will help them win this season.  Baseball is such a crazy sport that you need the depth to win over the long season and handle the injuries and slumps that will come, but also have the power to win in a short series in the postseason.  I feel this year we can handle many of injuries when they happen, unless there is a ton of them.  I just do not know if they can make a good playoff push. 

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I do think the quality of depth is in a good spot. In fact, I’m getting a high-floor/low-ceiling vibe for this club. Hope I’m wrong on the ceiling part, but I’m having a hard time figuring out where the offensive resurgence is going to come from. One final elite/healthy year from Donaldson?

Meanwhile though...we continue to perpetuate the myth that certain players from the 2019 Red Wings had ‘monster’ years. Context. Zander Wiel posted a 834 OPS. Entire teams matched that in the 2019 IL. Rochester posted 810 as a team. Jaylin Davis posted a 1112 in a partial season. Jake Cave a 984, Brent Rooker a 933, Tomas Telis a 854. Wiel, someone who apparently can only play 1B/DH, was ‘decent’, not ‘monster’.

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